By Matt Schwab
Special to Mustang Soccer
Grace Leer was an accomplished player and leader for Mustang Soccer, but her authentic singing voice has taken her to even greater heights.
Leer, who helped San Ramon Valley win three consecutive North Coast Section soccer titles before playing at Cal, has added to her growing resume as a performer on “American Idol” this season, soaring in her return to Idol after first appearing on “American Juniors” at the age of 11 when she became the talk of Danville.
Back in 2003 young Grace sang “To Sir, with Love,” causing judge Gladys Knight to gush: “There’s a richness to your voice and I love it.”
Current Idol judges have also marveled at Leer’s natural country singing style. She advanced through auditions and competed in a pre-taped Top 40 performance in Hawaii at Disney’s Aulani Resort Hotel (set to air on Sunday, April 5). Episodes were shot before the COVID-19 shutdown of the airlines.
Leer, a Nashville resident and Country Artist, wowed Idol judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan in auditions with a stirring rendition of the Highway Women’s “Crowded Table” and an on-the-spot performance of “Crazy” by Patsy Cline, first earning a trip to Hollywood Week.
Bryan described her voice as “great, and it’s easy to listen to.”
Perry said, “I love the texture of your voice.”
Leer next punched her ticket to the Aloha State after three more rounds of auditions. She sang “Unchained Melody” by the Righteous Brothers before winning a duet battle against her roommate and close friend Hannah Prestridge, when they performed Miranda Lambert’s “Mama’s Broken Heart. She also sang “Rainbow” by Kacey Musgraves.
“It’s been an amazing experience so far,” Leer, 28, said in an interview on Thursday, March 26.
High school soccer fans have probably heard Leer’s recorded voice singing the national anthem at North Coast Section games. She has performed the anthem at numerous athletic venues, including for the Golden State Warriors, San Francisco Giants, Oakland A’s, and Nashville Sounds – a Triple-A affiliate of the Texas Rangers. She also sang before her own Cal women’s soccer games (Leer captained the Golden Bears as a senior).
She currently performs in Nashville with the Grace Leer Band, along with friend Kyle Clouse, a Sonoma native and trusted guitar player who accompanied her to Idol auditions. The national exposure is helping open doors for her in a challenging Nashville market.
During high school Grace somehow managed to balance her two main passions – soccer and singing.
She has vivid memories of running from the San Ramon Valley soccer field over to the performing arts center and quickly changing into her choir dress for a concert.
“Growing up it was probably the three S’s for me,” Leer says happily. “We called it here in my family school, soccer and singing. It was the three S’s that were my constant. I think growing up I loved soccer and I loved being a normal kid, but singing was always just the biggest passion of mine. It was something that I’ve done … my parents brought me into talent shows when I was 5 or 6 years old, and from the very get-go I just loved being on stage. I loved putting emotion into a song and seeing people feel something from my singing. Music was always a constant in my life, but soccer was right up there with it.”
Leer helped the Mustang Spirit team earn numerous State Cup titles en route to the Regionals. She also coached at Mustang after finishing playing at Cal.
“Grace always showed up to training with a smile on her face,” recalled Pat Uriz, the Girls’ Coaching Director at Mustang. “She was one of those people you enjoyed being around and she was always so positive. Her demeanor was contagious. It was obvious that she truly enjoyed her teammates and her passion for the sport.”
Uriz also called Leer one of the best goal scorers to ever come out of the club.
So, not surprisingly, Leer led her high school team in scoring in 2008 and 2009 and was an NSCAA All-American. She was a Wolves team captain all four years, just as she was with all her Mustang teams.
“Love Grace,” San Ramon Valley coach Mark Jones said of the player nicknamed “Greer” at SRV. “Grace was always such a sweet, kind person and a fierce competitor. The team loved to hear her sing when we could push her into it. She would sing the national anthem at SRV home games.”
Leer also gives Jones’ high praise. “He is the best. I love Mark Jones. I’ve stayed really close with him. I’m lucky to have stayed close with a lot of my coaches,” she said.
Jones recalls watching Leer sing at Jaxson – a bar and country dance club in San Francisco.
“It was great to see her on stage doing what she clearly loves to do,” Jones said. “One lucky break and we could be hearing her on the radio!! American Idol might just be the break she’s been looking for. Either way it’s been a great boost of confidence.”
Leer, who works in sales for a startup in Nashville, is “the baby” of a family of six. Her older brother Chris competed for Mustang and is currently the assistant men’s soccer coach at Northwestern, after playing and coaching at UC Davis. “He’s a big soccer guy,” Grace says of Chris with a laugh.
Grace credits her parents Kristi and Buzz with being supportive of all the kids’ ventures.
Leer cherished her time at Mustang, playing with the club for about 13 years until graduating high school.
“Oh my gosh, yeah, Mustang was an incredible club to play for,” she says. “I got into the club when I was little, little, probably like 5 or 6 years old. I was in love with soccer from the beginning. I was always a forward. I loved to score goals. That was my favorite thing in the world, but Mustang was an amazing club. They were always super supportive. They molded me into a great player and into a leader a young age. … John Archimede was my first coach and he instilled a lot of great fundamentals in me, in terms of being a hard worker and being a team player and a leader as well.”
Mike Descombaz also coached her at Mustang beginning at age 13 when she was also singing for Radio Disney and going from weekend shows to a soccer tournament. Both coach John and Mike were always “super supportive” of her singing, she says.
Soccer, she says, taught her a lot about “learning from others, being a leader, being dedicated, having to put in that hard work, taking constructive criticism from coaches and really applying it into the sport. That’s probably the biggest thing that relays into singing because I work with vocal coaches, and I had vocal coach starting at the age of 10 and all the way up until now. … I’m still working on my craft.”
No matter how Idol plays out, Leer is Danville’s own work of art – a sweet country song with a kick.